Citi aims to launch smart chatbot in Hong Kong by end-2018

Maria Nikolova

The service is set to slash costs and reduce the need for live call centres and branch visits from customers.

Citi is the latest banking giant to try to lure Hong Kong clientele via a smart chatbot. According to a report by the South China Morning Post, the chatbot, which will allow Hong Kong clients of the bank to check their account balance and recent transactions via Facebook Messenger, will launch in the city by the end of 2018.

Citi’s head of digital banking Priscilla Ng said: “I would say Facebook is the No 1 priority for us, since it has around five million users in Hong Kong, around half of which are very active. So it’s a digital hotspot for people, very much like shopping malls”.

The Facebook Messenger-embedded chatbot will let customers access their own financial records and potentially conduct transactions in future. Citi plans to roll out the service worldwide following its launch in Singapore in March.

Ng also told the newspaper that she believes that 2019 is when mobile payments will really take off in Hong Kong, helped by the HKMA’s push to standardise QR payment codes across platforms and vendors, as well as the launch of faster payments systems in September.

Other banks have been deploying chatbots in Hong Kong too. For instance, in November last year, Standard Chartered Hong Kong unveiled the launch of such a solution. The chatbot, based on Kasisto’s Kai Banking platform, can answer customers’ questions via the bank’s mobile app or its website. The new solution is set to allow retail customers to get account information, make payments, transfer money, track expenses and analyze their spending.

Whereas banks in Hong Kong embrace new AI-based technologies, small and medium-sized brokerages shun chatbots, a survey conducted earlier this year by the Hong Kong Securities Association has shown. The data indicates that Hong Kong brokers prefer to use popular messaging apps such as WhatsAapp and WeChat to connect with their clients, while artificial intelligence powered chatbots are being deployed by large financial institutions.

Of the 300 brokerages surveyed in January and February, 81% said they did not intend to deploy a chatbot, while 8% said they use one. The reasons for this reluctance vary but expenses are high on the list. Among those brokerages that do not plan to deploy chatbots, 67% said the reason for staying away from chatbots was the excessive cost.

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